42 Ethiopian refugees arrested trying to flee to South Africa
Blantyre, Malawi – Police in the Malawi capital, Lilongwe, Sunday arrested 42 Ethiopians as they tried to flee to South Africa. Immigration Department spokesman Elack Banda said the refugees had fled the UNHCR-Malawi government-run Dzaleka Refugee Camp in the central district of Dowa.
‘We got a tip from the public that a truck was carrying a lot of strange people,’ he said.
Banda said the truck was traced to the city’s populous Kawale suburb and upon inspection the truck was found to contain sacks of unprocessed Malawi tobacco destined for South Africa with the Ethiopians hiding in between the sacks.
‘When we interrogated them, they claimed they were told there was some work for them in South Africa,’ he said.
Banda said the Malawian driver of the truck has also been arrested and that the refugees will temporarily be kept at the Maula Prison ‘for safe-keeping’.
He said the Ethiopians are likely to be sent back to the Dzaleka refugee camp.
‘We have to process them; we can’t deport them to Ethiopia because for them to be found at the camp they must have been cleared,’ he said.
The Dzaleka Refugee Camp, a former prison farm under the three-decade, one-party dictatorship of founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda that ended in 1994, currently holds about 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers mainly from the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa.
President Joyce Banda recently spoke about closing the camp since wars in most countries ended over a decade ago.
Malawi is used by mainly Ethiopian economic refugees as a transit point on their way to seek greener pastures in South Africa.
They take advantage of porous borders and corrupt police officers in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique to use uncharted routes to reach their destination.
But sometimes, apart from being arrested, their adventure ends in tragedy. In July, nearly 50 Ethiopians drowned on Lake Malawi when a boat they were travelling in capsized.
A further 42 Malawi-bound Ethiopians suffocated to death in a truck in Tanzania.